Karen Dabrowska

Originally published: 14th September 2020

by Friends of South Yemen

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Yemen’s wars and humanitarian crisis escalate


After the Houthis overthrew the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi in 2014 Security Council Resolution 2216 (2015) was passed condemning their unilateral action and instructing them to immediately and unconditionally withdraw their forces from government institutions including those in Sanaa.

The resolution is a road map for the undoing of the Houthi coup. They are the only party in the multifarious Yemeni conflict which the resolution mentions by name.

The UN has a formula for ending the Houthis’ usurpation of power. It states:

  1. Alarmed at the military escalation by the Houthis in many parts of Yemen including in the Governorates of Taiz, Marib, AlJauf, Albayda, their advance towards Aden, and their seizure of arms, including missile systems, from Yemen’s military and security institutions,
  2. Condemning in the strongest terms the ongoing unilateral actions taken by the Houthis, and their failure to implement the demands in resolution 2201 (2015) to immediately and unconditionally withdraw their forces from government institutions, including in the capital Sanaa, normalize the security situation in the capital and other provinces, relinquish government and security institutions, and safely release all individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained, and reiterating its call on all non‐State actors to withdraw from government institutions across Yemen and to refrain from any attempts to take over such institutions....
  3. Demands that all Yemeni parties, in particular the Houthis, fully implement resolution 2201 (2015), refrain from further unilateral actions that could undermine the political transition in Yemen, and further demands that the Houthis immediately and unconditionally:
    1. end the use of violence;
    2. withdraw their forces from all areas they have seized, including the capital Sanaa;
    3. relinquish all additional arms seized from military and security institutions, including missile systems;
    4. cease all actions that are exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen;
    5. refrain from any provocation or threats to neighbouring States, including through acquiring surface‐surface missiles, and stockpiling weapons in any bordering territory of a neighbouring State;
    6. safely release all political prisoners, and all individuals under house arrest or arbitrarily detained; and
    7. end the recruitment and use of children and release all children from their ranks.

The resolution could have been the death knell for the Houthis. Yet they now control more than 70 per cent of North Yemen and have not desisted from trying to overrun the South.

The Houthis are on the verge of taking Marib, the oil rich province, as well as Hodeidah. Yemen as a country has ceased to exist. The internationally recognized government has become a government in exile in Saudi Arabia, powerless to influence events on the ground. The on-again off-again talks to implement the Riyadh Agreement, aimed at ending the conflict between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and Hadi supporters, are on again but the formation of a new government is not guaranteed. Aden, the de facto capital, has a new governor who is also the secretary general of the STC, and frequent demonstrations in the Southern governorates of Hadhramaut, Shabwa and Socotra demand Southern statehood.

The Southerners have no desire for a union with the north where the Houthis are ruling with an iron fist and imposing an autocratic so-called Islamic government which has levied a religious tax to benefit them and their followers. Human rights organizations have accused the Houthis of kidnapping children and forcing them to undergo military training and using the COVID19 pandemic to clamp down on gatherings they do not approve of and close internet cafes. The Houthis are also accused of arbitrary detentions, torture in secret prisons and forced disappearances. The city of Taiz has been besieged for five years, there has been indiscriminate shelling, sniper attacks and abduction and kidnappings. On September 6th the Houthis reportedly abducted 11 individuals in the Al-Quraishiyah district of Al-Bayda Province.

On September 3, a report released by the Group of International and Regional Eminent Experts on Yemen detailed a host of possible war crimes committed by various parties to the conflict, including indiscriminate shelling, snipers and landmines as well as arbitrary killings and detention, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and impeding access to humanitarian aid.

“Five years into the conflict violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold those responsible accountable” said Kamel Jendoubi, chair of the Group of Experts. “The international community must stop turning a blind eye to these violations and the intolerable humanitarian situation.”

Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen

The UN’s behaviour on Yemen is not unprecedented. In the Sri Lankan civil war (1983–2009) it failed to protect civilians and showed a lack of political will to stop atrocities. The United States, Britain and France have spoken out repeatedly in the UNSC about the war in Syria focusing on the political process, the humanitarian fault lines and the use of chemical weapons. But words are not enough. Former war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte quit a United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria because “it does absolutely nothing.”

The dynamics at the UN have drastic consequences for the Yemenis as the US, Britain and France are supporting the Arab coalition, whose military campaigns, which have failed to dislodge the Houthis, have resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties. Afrah Nasser, a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, believes the UN should consider how to push Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK to demonstrate a political desire in ending the Yemen war.

“The United Nations can capitalize on its role as mediator
and bring the focus to long term human and financial costs.”

“The United Nations can capitalize on its role as mediator and bring the focus to long term human and financial costs as well as the fact that the destabilized country is fertile ground for extremist groups,” Nasser said. “To end Yemen’s war and stabilize the country requires a well thought-out approach that balances the need for security with transitional justice and establishing a responsive, democratic government.”

FOSY’s Chairman Abdul Galil Shaif Kasim is adamant that considering the UK’s historical role in Yemen through its colonial occupation of the South for over a century, the UK government needs to take an active role in restoring peace for the benefit of all Yemenis and the region. Dialogue between the different parties should be rooted in the recognition of the rights of Southerners to determine their future.

Dr Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi (Yemen’s foreign minister 2002–2014) warns that the country is now standing at a crossroads between reconciliation and peace or becoming a hotbed for dissent, rebellion and regional instability that could spiral completely out of control.

It may be time for a new UN resolution, which Britain could draft, to address the harsh realities on the ground and present options which would allow for dialogue between all political forces. But as the failure to implement Security Council Resolution 2216 (2015) shows, the best resolutions are useless if they are not enforced by those who have the political will and military muscle to do so.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran Algerian diplomat who was the UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria from 2012-14 said: “Everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all.” Sadly this is also true of Yemen.

To solve the Yemeni imbroglio the Arab coalition and the regional powers have to abandon their hidden agendas and proxy wars and work together in the interests of peace and development. Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations have to produce a solution to the country’s seemingly intractable problems which is acceptable to all: Northerners and Southerners. The spoilers of peace and the beneficiaries of the conflict can no longer be permitted to call the shots and perpetuate a bloody civil war and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.